Let’s use the framework of the five key questions (see homepage) to understand how films work and how they affect us.


Just as any piece of art begins with an idea, so does a film, and it does not matter whose idea it is. With the right knowledge and resources, anyone can produce a film.

The usual makers of film are individuals, such as you and me, or film studios. The idea of filmmaking came from the desire to capture and reproduce motion. Not real motion but the illusion of motion. When several still images of an object changing position is seen one after the other, the eye perceives it as motion. Watch this video to understand how this works: Link to the video: —

In case you were unable to play this, this is what you should know about persistence of vision (THIS CAN TAKE THE USER TO ANOTHER PAGE): The light falling on an object bounces off it and hits the retina (the inside wall of the eye). Right behind the eye, is what is called the optic nerve. This carries the message to the brain, where the image is formed. The brain retains this image for about one-tenth of a second. This is what makes watching films possible. If you see two similar images, one after the other, in quick succession, you will see the object move. — It was the invention of photography that made it possible to project real-life people and images on a screen, as opposed to paintings or drawings of them.

Now when we watch a film, we rarely think about who made it and how. But to be film literate you must begin by asking these questions. Before the who and what of the film as a message, let us understand the filmmaking process.

Idea and development

The process of filmmaking begins with an idea. The idea is developed into a story suitable for films and then converted into a script. The filmmaker first works on the story of the film, and then takes that story to people who might be willing to help him/her produce, finance and distribute it when it’s ready. The script has the visuals and sounds for the film, the characters, a plot, and dialogues.


Every filmmaker has a story s/he wishes to tell the world, so every film has a purpose. The purpose could be to simply entertain, as with some Bollywood films, to frighten or excite, as with horror films, or to raise awareness, as with films on human trafficking or global warming. What you see in the film is one person’s way of looking at the world. This is something you should keep in mind while watching films.

When you watch a blockbuster film about a hero who has to fight off a bunch of villains to rescue his love, do you really bother about the location where a song was shot? Do you ask how the actors moved from a shed in one corner of the city to the streets of New York? Should you be asking that question? Maybe you should, maybe you shouldn’t.

As with books, films can belong to the category of fiction or non-fiction. But even with the ones that say they represent reality, you must apply your own judgement and not believe everything you hear and see.


The next stage in filmmaking is the pre-production stage. It is said to be the most important stage as this is when most of the logistical and creative decisions are taken, as far as circumstances permit.

Filmmakers always have to leave room for adjustments and last-minute changes. Logistical decisions involve choosing locations to shoot at, coordinating with teams on the schedule for the shoot, preparing the schedule for the shoot, casting people, and organising all the tools and items required for production.

This is when the filmmaker decides exactly what it is h/she hopes to record, in terms of both sights and sounds, and how long that might take, what camera angles will be apt for certain scenes in the story, what special sound or video effects might be required, how the material recorded will be organised and labelled, and so on.


All this will also be determined by the budget of the film, which is also prepared in the preproduction stage. The budget includes the cost for shooting, hiring and paying crew members, getting actors, production equipment, and other miscellaneous expenses such as food and last minute changes.


This is when the actual work for the film begins. All the audio and visual material required for the film is gathered at this stage. The crew heads out with their script and screenplay in hand and begins shooting.

(What is a Screenplay?,

Apart from shooting for the video component of the film, the team also records the music or background sounds. If there are dialogues or sounds that weren’t clear in the first recording, they are re-recorded.

The filmmaker might also tweak the script or story, based on inputs from the team or availability of resources.


It is in this stage when all the audio and video bits recorded are pieced together, to tell the story. The filmmaker has to go through his notes, the video and audio clips recorded and decided which ones to use and in what order. This process is called editing. The film that you see is a product of editing. Bad editing can ruin a good story. Editing is done using special software such as Windows Movie Maker, Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premier Pro, Final Cut Pro, Power Director, Corel Visual Studio, and many others.

Filmmakers have to make sure to pay close attention to how they arrange the video they have shot, how the background score is used, what video or audio editing effects may be needed to improve the quality, and also, importantly, what is not required.


Once the film is done and ready for its audiences, the distribution team sets to work. Distribution includes the physical delivery of the film, either for viewing in theatres, at home, on DVDs, or on the internet; and promotional activities, to attract people to the film. Promotional activities include everything from advertising, selling merchandise (if say it a superhero film, then superhero toys), to organising meeting with the media, getting the actors to appear in television programmes, and organising events.


It isn’t always easy to analyse films or TV shows. That’s because of the nature of the medium: things usually happen quickly and meaning is conveyed in so many different ways that it can be hard to keep track.

It is always recommended that you watch any film or TV show at least two times before doing any proper analysis. The first time is when you merely understand the plot and characterizations—an instinctive understanding. The second time, you observe carefully and try to understand why certain things made you feel a certain way.

What gave you the impression that the protagonist is a good guy? What made you believe that the landlord was a crooked man? What led you to believe that the hero and heroine had a happy marriage? Did it always seem to you that the protagonist’s father-in-law ill-treated his poor damaad? Why? [CHANGE]

Now, there are three areas that affect the reception of a film and these are the ones you need to look out for carefully:


Moving images. In essence, that’s what a film is. So to make sense of any film, it is important to understand the images that compose it. When looking at images, remember this term: mis-en-scene.

Mis-en-scene refers to all that makes up the scene. This includes the set, props, costumes, actors, blocking (the way in which actors are arranged) and lighting.

What does the use of a particular colour in the background do? What does the relative positioning of the actors signify? Where have certain things been framed? Does that impact the way meaning is created?

Also consider things such as camera angles. A low camera angle is often used to make someone appear larger. This technique is used, for example, when an actor is to be shown in a position of authority.


A high angle shot is used to make a character appear small and insignificant.

Now, consider these three descriptions of the same still shot. EXAMPLE

You could consider these the three steps in reading a photo. First, understand the import of the action to the plot. Second, observe the visual details. Third, connect the action to the visual details and see how each affects the other.


There are two kinds of movements in any film.

Continuous movement refers to the movement within the frame: this could be the characters moving or the camera moving.

Discontinuous movement refers to movement between frames. This is done through editing, where two or more frames are joined together or some other movement introduced between them such as dissolve, move, zoom in etc.

Here are some questions you can consider when looking at a film’s movement:

1. What is the film’s pace?

2. Are the characters moving? Are all characters moving? Are any stationary?

3. Are characters stationary but just the camera moving?

4. Are the camera movements smooth? Or jumpy?

5. What effect does all this have?


Sound can be a very important in conveying any particular meaning to you.

There are three types of sounds in any film:

1. Dialogues

2. Music/ Songs

3. Sound effects

To understand the impact that sounds has on your experience of a film, try watching a sequence with the sound on. And then turn the sound off and re-watch the entire sequence. What does that do?

Sometimes, lack of dialogues and music itself can be used to convey meaning.


Take a look at this clip. Who do you think this was made for?

Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham National Anthem scene

This clearly will hold more appeal for those Indians who have settled down abroad and have some sense of nostalgia and patriotism for their home country.

Some films choose to target specific groups of audiences, while still having some appeal for those outside this set target. But there are some films that speak from the point of view of a particular group.

When you know who has made the film, it might become simpler for you to understand what the person was trying to tell you and why. For example, the Marathi film Fandry (2014)–which is about a Dalit boy’s struggle against the pull of the social forces his world operates in–was written and directed by a Dalit himself.

This is important in the argument about who speaks for whom. Can a person belonging to an upper caste, or even lower caste, really know or fully understand what a Dalit has been through, or has had to endure? Knowing the maker also helps you decide the importance you attach to the facts presented in the story, to the characters depicted in it, and to the message it conveys.



But whatever their aim may be, films also affect the way we live. They influence our culture. How often do we wonder which character from a film we are like? How do we decide what our weddings should be like? How do we even decide what our spouse should be like?



So what motivates most filmmakers? Most films are made with the intention to make money; for a profit.

But how do filmmakers do this?

1. Sale of film-related merchandise

Films may come up with a line of merchandise to sell before and after a film’s release. This could include action figures, mugs, video games and so on and so forth.

2. Sale of film music

Any sale of film music, in the form of cassettes, CDs or use by other artists brings money for the film producers.

3. Sale of film tickets

The more the number of people watching a film, the more money that film makes.

4. Sale of film DVDs and other video material

Film DVDs and related material such as bloopers or behind-the-scene action can bring in money for the film.

5. Product placement

Filmmakers may agree to give room to any one or more brand(s) in their film, either as a part of the story itself or by merely placing it in the mis-en-scene. But this is usually done for a fee.